Sugars or sugar ?
What exactly is sugar? Sugar belongs to the carbohydrates family. It's a nutrient we consume everyday, like proteins and fats. But be careful not to use the wrong term!
The basic carbohydrate unit is a small molecule, most often glucose, but sometimes fructose or galactose. Nature either combines two of these units to produce a sucrose molecule (glucose + fructose), a lactose molecule (glucose + galactose) or a maltose molecule (glucose + glucose), or it combines a large number of long glucose chains to produce starch.
Simple carbohydrates / complex carbohydrates: a question of size
Although they share the same energy value (4 kcal/g), carbohydrates are categorised according to size into simple and complex carbohydrates:
Carbohydrates consisting of one or two basic units are called simple carbohydrates(or sugars). These sweet carbohydrates are naturally present in fruit, milk and dairy products or added to food to sweeten it. Sometimes, they are added for their preserving (jams) and colouring (biscuits) properties.
The official definition is:
- sugar (without an s) for sucrose
- sugars (with an s) for all simple carbohydrates found in food
Complex carbohydrates are giant molecules made from chains of several tens or even thousands of glucose units. The most common and well-known is starch. Complex carbohydrates are found in cereals (wheat, rice, barley, corn, etc.), tubers (potatoes, etc.) and leguminous plants (lentils, beans, peas, etc.)
Carbohydrates in the body
Simple or complex, carbohydrates supply, as glucose, most of the energy needed for our body’s cells to function. According to public health recommendations, around 50% of our daily energy intake should be from carbohydrates. The recommendations of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) on carbohydrates (March 2010) found there was insufficient evidence to set an upper limit for sugars.